Is Grace Opposed to the Spiritual Disciplines?

Who we are is shaped by what we do and what we do is shaped by our love. As James Smith puts it “you are what you love because you live towards what you want” (Smith, 13). The object of our love dictates, in blatant or subtle ways, how we live out our lives from the things we do, the words we say, the relationships we form, the possessions we accumulate, the way we spend our time, and the list could go on. Habits begin to shape ones virtues and vices. Whether compassion comes naturally or needs to be a decision indicates the habits practiced on a daily basis. It indicates who we are. If compassion is practiced daily, eventually the compassionate habits become who we are.

Knowing is only half the battle. We might have just come to realize that what we are doing matters, but it does not do us any good if we do not examine what we are doing. Part of that examination is beginning with “what is the object of our love?” As followers of Christ, we examine our practices in light of our love of Christ. This is where the spiritual disciplines come in, as our aids as disciples of Jesus. The disciplines “bring us into more effective cooperation with Christ and his Kingdom” through practices that direct our love toward Christ (Willard, 156). By regularly exercising our spiritual muscles, like “playing piano,” we start to form a memory that begins to flow naturally through us, making virtues like compassion a part of who we are (Smith, 18).

To the recovering legalist (or possibly the devout reformed church member) this can sound an awful lot like works righteousness. What’s being put forth here is a work that one must do in order to become more holy. I would not blame somebody for shying away at the proposal. After all, isn’t that why we have grace so that way we don’t have to work for our salvation? Correct we do have grace and the spiritual disciplines don’t earn our salvation. Instead, the spiritual disciplines are part of how we are to live because of our salvation. 

Spiritual disciplines, Foster says, are “God’s way of getting us into the ground, they put us where he can work within us and transform us” (7). God uses spiritual disciplines as a means of discipleship, a “way to curate your heart” as a serious, lifelong follower of Jesus (Smith, 2). Through prayer, study, solitude, celebration, fasting, and other practices we are not trying to earn grace, but we are putting ourselves in the way of grace as we are reformed, reshaped, and transformed more and more into the image of Christ.

So is grace opposed to the disciplines? No. In fact, grace and the disciplines go hand in hand. As we set out to follow Jesus “in Jesus’ ways” we must get our hearts in their right order, finding rest in Him (Peterson). The spiritual disciplines help us become aware of the ways we are not so we can retune our love back onto Christ. God works in us to get rid of whatever is distracting us so that we may get back on to living the new life we have been saved to live. The daily habits and practices we do matter a great deal. If we truly want the kingdom of God, then we have to live into it in order for us to be formed more and more into the image of Christ.

Quote of the Day

So discipleship is more a matter of hungering and thirsting then knowing and believing. Jesus’s command to follow him is a command to align our loves and longings with his—to want what God wants, to desire what God desires, to hunger and thirst after God and crave a world where he is all in all—a vision encapsulated by the short hand “the kingdom of God.” (Smith, 2)

Foster, Richard J. “The Spiritual Disciplines: Door to Liberation.” Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth. Third ed. San Francisco: HarperOne, 1998. 1-11. Print.

Smith, James K. A. “You Are What You Love: To Worship Is Human.” You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit. Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2016. 1-25. Print.

Willard, Dallas. “Some Main Disciplines for the Spiritual Life.” The Spirit Of The Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 2001. 156. Print.